Several text messages a day, leaflets plastered in the toilets, “information meetings” and even an openly anti-union website. In its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon management has left nothing to chance for six months. All methods are good for countering the demands of some of its 5,800 employees asking for the creation of a union. And to convince as many people as possible to vote against this project by the end of March.
A similar first attempt had failed in Delaware in 2014, but the hope of setting up the first association for the defense of “Amazonians” on American soil is immense this time. This ballot, organized by correspondence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, began on Monday.
Why this difference between the United States and Europe?
The incomparable legislation on both sides of the Atlantic. “In France, union negotiation takes place mainly by sector via collective agreements. There, everything is played out at company level, unit by unit, ”summarizes Adrien Thomas, political scientist in Luxembourg and specialist in trade unionism.
In sectors such as delivery and e-commerce, marked by insecurity and high turnover, federating at the local level in the face of a multinational is proving all the more complicated. “With digital giants like Amazon, we focus everything on an image of modernity, flexibility, on the idea that comfort comes through a direct relationship with the hierarchy. In this image, unions have no place, ”continues this researcher at the Center for Research in Social Sciences (CEPS / INSTEAD).
How was the project organized?
The warehouse opened in March 2020. At the time, Amazon was pleased to create jobs in this deindustrialized area and affected by mass unemployment, especially among the African-American population already marked by segregationist stigmas. . Less than a year later, it is the latter who is at the head of the sling.
The current context is no stranger to it. Take the rise of the anti-racist movement Black Lives Matter; add to this the more global concern of the wage earner to enforce health rules in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic; and this is how a clandestine meeting in a parking lot between Amazon employees and neighboring trade union officials from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) took place in the summer.
It is important to note that this aspiration also has an air of awakening. Because this region of Alabama was in the mid-twentieth century a bastion of struggles for the rights of metallurgists. And already at the time, this fight was combined with that of the racial question. “We see it as as much a struggle for civil rights as it is a struggle for work,” RWDSU union president Stuart Appelbaum told Bloomberg. “The overwhelming majority, perhaps over 85% of the workers at this factory are African American. And their main concern seems to be that they are not treated with respect ”.
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For the past fifteen years, many American trade union organizations have been trying to revitalize their troops and give themselves greater legitimacy by joining in contemporary societal struggles (Black Lives Matter but also #MeToo). In recent days, the “Amazonians” have received the support of the very powerful American Football League (NFL), 50 deputies but also Senator Bernie Sanders.
What are their demands?
Frenzied pace, permanent pressure… These employees demand more respectful working conditions. An investigation conducted last September by the investigation site Reveal within Amazon warehouses revealed a critical injury rate of 7.7% in 2019, nearly double the national industry average. Cameras and systems for monitoring rest times also make it possible to calculate the production rate of each employee. However, an excess of time off, to go to the bathroom for example, can justify a dismissal after two warnings.
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The multinational, the country’s second largest employer with 800,000 employees and the big winner of the health crisis, disputes these accusations. “We don’t think RWDSU represents the majority opinion of our employees,” says Rachel Lighty, spokesperson for Amazon. Conversely, the company highlights its compensation level of $ 15 per hour, well above the federal minimum wage ($ 7.25).
Amazon uses this argument on all occasions. Faced with the new Democratic President Joe Biden, who during the campaign made statements favorable to “labor unions”, the giant recalled on Twitter his hope to see this salary threshold become “the norm”.
What is the management’s counteroffensive on the ground?
Beyond the unsuccessful appeals to delay the poll or force a vote on the spot, testimonies of intimidation and accusations of harassment are legion. “We do not have meetings to find out how we are going with the pandemic, but we have mandatory meetings to explain to us how bad the unions are for us and for the company”, still recently indignant Joseph Jones, a part-time worker interviewed by AFP. This message is also hammered out through posters pasted on the toilet door, text messages sent several times a day to the employees’ personal cellphones.
“#Do it without dues”: this is the name of the website that the leaders also invented to encourage employees not to join a potential union and to withdraw their initial support. “Why pay 500 dollars in membership fees? We take care of you with high salaries, health insurance, optical and dental benefits as well as a safety committee and recourse process, ”claims the homepage. Nothing actually forces employees in the state of Alabama to pay contributions, according to many American media.
LONG Amnesty International was alarmed last October at the millions of dollars invested by the firm to monitor and infiltrate staff with the aim of nipping any initiative in the bud. This stubbornness does not surprise political scientist Adrien Thomas. “Large groups have enormous means to discourage people. It always happened like that. If a union succeeds in establishing itself in a warehouse, there can be a snowball effect ”. And this in the various warehouses of Amazon but also elsewhere. The management of Google, for example, faces similar claims. It remains to gather upstream the approval of 30% of employees in favor of the creation of a union section. A step already taken by Amazon employees of Bessemer with nearly 3,000 votes.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr